Album Review: Piñata

Picture a half-Mexican, half-African American baby celebrating a birthday party in a backyard. Some kids want piñatas for their birthdays so their father, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs, indulges this desire.

The kid whacks mercilessly at the piñata, and when he finally busts open the paper-mached animal, a shower of white powder, like a Rob Ford snowfall, covers all of them. This figment from Gibbs’s subconscious, is what triggered his latest project, Piñata, shortened from its original title, Cocaine Piñata.

After teasing the hip-hop world with annual collaborations since 2011, Freddie Gibbs and legendary producer Madlib have finally brought their long-awaited project to the party, filled with intricate and complex beats, rapped over with relative ease, despite doubts that Gibbs’s hardstyle could mesh with Madlib’s unconventional instrumentals.

Gibbs’ gangster rap nature has done well for his previous projects such as his underrated ESGN album from 2013, and while it isn’t as loud and brash as on ESGN, Gibbs is slick and lethal over random samples from blaxploitation films and more, and there is no desire to skip over any tracks, not even previously released material like “Thuggin’”, “Shame” and “Deeper”.

Piñata’s standout tracks include “High”, featuring Danny Brown, which carries a beat that stays smooth despite its unexpected switch at the beginning, and Brown’s obnoxious yet oddly infectious voice. The standout tracks don’t stop, with “Bomb” which features the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and “Shame” featuring BJ the Chicago Kid.

Gibbs is also able to kill tracks on his own. “Knicks” come to mind but the features just double the fun when consuming the contents of Piñata.

They aren’t overbearing and are perfect complements to Gibbs. Even on the album’s final track, “Pinata,” which features a smorgasbord of talent including Domo Genesis, Casey Veggies and Mac Miller among others, each verse is stellar and is on the par with the next. The track is comparable to, and even better than “1Train”, a feature-heavy tune from 2013 featuring A$AP Rocky and a host of others.

While Freddie Gibbs will get a great deal of credit for his verses, producing legend Madlib cannot be forgotten in this shower of praise. Madlib’s production is thoroughly entertaining to take in. Whether it’s rapped over by Gibbs and his numerous features or simply Gibbs’s uncle, recognized as Big Time Watts, going on an epic rant.

The majority of Madlib’s beats are fluid and easy-going. They’re easy to vibe and lounge to, despite their complex and chameleon nature. A number of beats lead the listener in one direction, only for a complete change once the actual beat drops. Just like a real pinata, you’ll be surprised by what’s inside.

Surely, there are risks when one producer is charged with the responsibility of producing an entire album, but should there be any doubt when Madlib – who has produced for Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, and a host of others – is in charge? I don’t think so.

If you’re not going to listen to any other hip-hop album this year, and it would be a total shame if you didn’t, busting this Piñata open is a necessity.

REVIEW: 4.25/5

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